Friday Fives

Friday Fives: February 14, 2020 <3

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Just two bacons in love

❤ Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤

How do you celebrate?

I know folks that view V-Day as a made-up holiday that only benefits Hallmark and others that go all out, exchanging gifts and stuff.

Ben and I generally go out to a nice dinner, either the day of or around the day. This year, we were on top of that shit and Ben made us reservations at a fancy local spot.

They have my favorite soup ever made in the history of soup—mushroom, with real cream drizzled over the top. Fat kid heaven. 🙂

I also like to get both Jake and Ben some treats. And myself of course. Gotta’ keep up that Reese’s intake for optimum health.

What are you up to?


Friday Fives:

MOnty with Nellie and Nigel in the jewel and grass borders

I mean, look at him with those faithful doggos 😭

What I’m Watching: 

Nothing bc I am reading like a maniac. But as spring becomes more of a presence in my mind, I will turn to Gardeners’ World because Monty Don is one of the most soothing people on TV. He would really give Mr. Rogers a run for his money. I keep worrying that he’s a jerk in real life, which would crush me.


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The jury is out.

What I’m Reading:

Just finished up What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons. So good.

I’ve started Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore but am having trouble getting into it. Anyone have any opinions to share on that one?

After loving Ethan Frome, I also bought all of Edith Wharton’s novels for 99¢ on Kindle. So there’s that option…


The Housekeeper by Natalie BarelliWhat I’m Listening to:

The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli —It’s a psychological thriller that involves a housekeeper/nanny, so you know I’m in. It is read by a new-to-me narrator, Susie Berneis, who gives a delightful performance. Her tone is wry and she sounds like she’s been smoking for 20 years. I love it.


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Giant heart eyes for this bathroom

What I’m Making: 

I’m working on gussying up our upstairs bathroom, which is taking the place of my artwork lately. The walls are gray and I’m painting the trim black. Shooting for the kind of aesthetic displayed by @offbeat.vintage.girl on Instagram.

Give her a follow if you love vintage/dark colors/have an older home.


What I’m Loving:

Kolaj magazine. It is brilliant. I save every issue for a special amount of time, when I can read every word and examine every page of artwork. It’s quarterly and I wish it were monthly because I literally want to jump into the pages and live in them.

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Too much gorgeous. Can’t compute.


Tell me what you’re reading and/or fascinated by right now.

I need more internet rabbit holes to fall down!

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

What We Lose

33280160You know how people sometimes compliment a nonfiction book by saying that it reads like fiction?

Well, What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons is a novel that reads like nonfiction—but I mean that as a compliment!

Thanks to the first-person narration, the interspersed photos, and the very real history, this book read like a memoir to me in the best possible way.

The excellent first-person narration is the star of Clemmons’ show. Protagonist Thandi has been raised in Philadelphia by a South African mother, who is a nurse, and American father, who is a professor and administrator at a private college. They are close with Thandi’s mother’s family in South Africa and they own a vacation home there.

Due to her light skin, and being raised in a suburban neighborhood, attending schools with mostly upper-middle-class white kids, Thandi walks a cultural tightrope, feeling neither here nor there when it comes to race.

In high school, a white classmate tells her she’s “not like a real black person,” meaning it as a compliment. And, when Thandi gets into a prestigious college, another sneers “affirmative action.”

Meanwhile, we learn how apartheid South Africa has shaped her mother’s world view and Thandi grapples with her mother’s opinions and big personality, coupled with grief now that she is dying of cancer.

Clemmons hits you with this grief from the first scene of the novel, where Thandi and her father are sharing a meal together, her mother’s absence a paradoxical presence between them.

Interspersed throughout the story are historical discussions that range from apartheid to women who marry serial killers, often complemented by black and white photos. There are also pages with just one poetic sentence, like “Sex is kicking death in the ass while singing.” Surprising, but totally relevant within the context of the story. Both ugly and beautiful at the same time.

The whole arrangement of parts gives a sort of “collage” feel to the book and you really do have to read the entire thing, viewing it as a single body, if that makes sense, to appreciate it.

Clemmons is an immensely talented writer and she makes it work. I read it in an evening and I’m glad I did.

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2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

When Are You Reading? Challenge: The Ballroom

This year, I’m participating in the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam of Taking on a World of Words.

This book is my selection for the years 1900-1919.


26797014I don’t seek out books about insane asylums, but when one presents itself, I am certain to check it out from the library.

In particular, The Ballroom by Anna Hope presented itself on my last library trip.

Set in 1911, the story revolves around three central characters, Ella Fay and John Mulligan, two patients (inmates), and Dr. Charles Fuller, a doctor at the asylum. The asylum is located in Yorkshire, England at the edge of those moors wandered by Jane Eyre & co.

The asylum is everything you’d expect a 1911 insane asylum to be. There are terrible people in charge, Nurse Ratchets everywhere, and the accommodations are lacking in basic necessities, heat for example.

The inmates work to keep the asylum running, doing laundry and growing food, etc. John, in fact, digs graves at the beginning of the story, and Ella is put on laundry duty.

The circumstances around Ella’s imprisonment are heartbreaking. A worker in an Irish clothing factory, Ella is driven by sheer boredom and despair to an action that lands her in the asylum. I won’t spoil it for you though. John’s story is equally sad.

As the book progresses, Ella and John find each other at one of the asylum’s Friday dances, which take place in, you guessed it, the ballroom. The fact that they even have a ballroom is wild, but that is explained in the story too.

Lording over the ballroom is Dr. Fuller, Charles, as we come to know him, who is not just a doctor, but a talented musician and official band director for the asylum. A man of his times, Charles is, I’m sorry to tell you, interested in eugenics, and wants to pioneer sterilization of the poor and insane at the asylum.

Throughout the story, we get a peek into common treatments of the “insane” and daily life in an asylum in Edwardian England. That’s really what I was in it for. If you are too, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The book was immensely readable. Hope is a talented writer who pulls you right along from the beginning. I did wish the story focused on the perspective of one character, Ella, but then we wouldn’t know as much about Charles, a complex character with a secret.

In the end, I enjoyed this book very much, though I don’t see it becoming a favorite.

Sorry for the bland review. My brain is full thanks to work right now.

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Fiction, Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 historical fiction books I loved

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The three loves of my life in one pic

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly top ten list hosted by Jana at Artsy Reader Girl.

This week, the theme is ❤ love ❤ . Since I’m doing a historical reading challenge this year, I thought it might be fun to share historical fiction I’ve read and loved in the past.

Here goes!


1. The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

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I discovered Anya Seton’s excellent historical fiction last year and started with The Winthrop Woman. It features a strong female character in colonial America. I now want to read all her books.

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2. The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier

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Featuring another strong female in a different era – the English civil war. Funny, I always think of du Maurier as one of my favorite authors and yet I’ve only read two of her books. This and Rebecca. Must remedy that.

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3. Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

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Set in rural Ontario, this one is about two sisters and their relationship, as well as their different choices during a time of cultural upheaval. Clara’s sister moves to NYC to become a radio star and something terrible changes Clara’s life. Just talked myself into re-reading it…

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4. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

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Murder at an English boarding school. What could be better? I’ll tell you. The audiobook version being read by the talented Jayne Entwistle, that’s what.

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5. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

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Lesbian characters, 1920s London, murder, Sarah Waters’ incredible storytelling. Audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson. You can’t go wrong.

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6. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

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More strong female characters, this time enslaved women of the antebellum South.

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7. Doc by Mary Doria Russell 

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I freakin’ love Doc Holliday. And at the hands of Mary Doria Russell, he comes to life, as does the 19th-century American West.

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8. The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

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Starring the woman who is hired to be the chaperone of early film star Louise Brooks. I might re-read this one too, actually.

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9. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles 

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If you enjoy tangled webs of tricky and codependent relationships played out to great drama in historic settings, you’ll probably like this as much as I did.

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10. Brief Gaudy Hour: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Margaret Campbell Barnes

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One of my favorite English queens through the eyes of Margaret Campbell Barnes, a talented writer who probably doesn’t get remembered as she should. And isn’t that a great book title?

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I could go on, but this is a top ten. I just adore this genre. As you can tell, I lean toward women’s stories, though the books I’ve listed here are mostly focused on white women’s stories. I aim to read more diverse books this year.

That said, got any historical fiction recommendations for me? Bonus points if they feature minority women characters!

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: January 2020

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The couple that reads together also sometimes hikes to the library in the snow together.

I’ve noticed other bloggers doing a sort of monthly wrap-up. Stacey of Unruly Reader is one of my favorites. 🙂 I thought it might be fun to do the same.

Especially because Ben doesn’t have a lot of time for blogging, so this is a good way to share what he’s reading even if he doesn’t write verbose reviews like I do…

It’s already a couple of weeks into February, I know, but I just thought of doing this, so here we are.

What Shannon read in January:

Sorry, they’re not clickable because they’re in a “gallery” set-up (get on this, WordPress). But here are links to my reviews:

What Ben read in January:

Ben’s notes:

Sins of Empire
Fun epic fantasy in a world that includes both magic and gunpowder. It’s book one of a series, but there was an earlier series featuring some of the same characters. I might read that too even though now I’m thoroughly spoilered up. Seems like some heroes lived long enough to become villains.

The Castle on Sunset
Fascinating look at the history of the Chateau Marmont. Hotel histories are kind of a thing for me now, after I read about The Plaza last year. Fascinating how so many hotels are almost completely anonymous, but then some become huge cultural icons. Lots of Hollywood gossip and history wound up in this one, although it gives disappointingly short shrift to the Sunset Strip era of our lifetime. Would have appreciated a little more rock n roll along with my Hollywood.

The Swerve

This one was really good: dense but readable, and full of huge ideas. Pretty impressive to read how many of the concepts that we think of as being products of the modern scientific mindset were actually formed in ancient Greece in the first century BC. I may have to read some Lucretius at some point, the book hypes it up so much.


Shannon again: As you may be aware, Ben and I have a friendly competition every year to see who reads the most books. You’ll see I’ve made a good effort in January, but note that I am also famous for my reading slumps. I will inevitably stall out and have some 1-3 book months, and I fully expect Ben to win our challenge in 2020, as he has the past several years. 😀

Ben responds: I think Shannon may be overstating my chances for the 2020 race, but I’m not giving up. Gonna try to bring the noise in February. Taking my inspiration from the words of professor Gerald Lambeau,  “So, let this be said: the gauntlet has been thrown down, but the faculty have answered, and answered with vigor.”

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, everyone!

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2020 Classics Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

2020 Classics Challenge: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

TwentyThousandLeaguesUndertheSeaJules Verne, you entertaining S.O.B.

My reaction while reading the initial chapters of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne was one of utter amusement. As I remarked to Ben, anyone who says the classics are boring isn’t reading the right classics.

I was vastly entertained by the plot and characters of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. One of Verne’s classic adventure novels, this book is the origin of numerous names and tropes that would live on in the science fiction genre in perpetuity.

The novel follows narrator Professor Pierre Aronnax, a French marine biologist who joins an expedition on an American frigate, the Abraham Lincoln, in hot pursuit of what is believed to be a rowdy narwhal causing trouble in the open seas.

Of course, the narwhal turns out to be that contraption you see on the cover of the book, a uniquely designed submarine called the Nautilus, which boasts a full crew commanded by the formidable Captain Nemo.

I knew the name Captain Nemo, but didn’t know where it came from. Isn’t it funny how bits of culture become so universal that you can be aware of them most of your life without knowing the origin?

This is exactly why I take joy in the classics challenge. I feel like I am getting an education on all the important books I missed in school, despite having covered a lot of ground as an English major.

I digress.

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How cool is this pic? I really want to learn more about actual Narwhals now. Source

Noteworthy notes about the book:

  • The most interesting conflict in the book, to me, is the fact that the professor and his two companions are held captive on the Nautilus. From the time they are rescued from death at sea by Captain Nemo, he warns them that they are to live out their days on the submarine. Death at sea is the other option and they are alive at his pleasure. So, while traveling in the submarine is a grand adventure, it is also a prison for the three captives which keeps the reader asking “Will they escape?” until the end.
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  • Team Ned Land forever. Ned Land, a Canadian harpooner, is along for the ride. He’s a classic jock/meathead type who is quite disgruntled at having been taken captive and eager to get back to land. One of my favorite lines of his is in reaction to Aronnax encouraging him to look forward to their first meal aboard the Nautilus:
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    “Bah!” said the angry harpooner, “what do you suppose they eat here? Tortoise liver, filleted shark, and beef steaks from seadogs.” Lol.
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  • This is very much a book of its time, by which I mean there is racism. When Aronnax and his companions come upon the people of Papua New Guinea, I’m afraid they refer to them as savages, cannibals, and wretches. Ick.
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  • Science fiction readers will be accustomed to some of the technical descriptions in the book. These are especially lengthy while Captain Nemo is explaining the workings of the submarine to Aronnax.
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    I found passages like these mind-numbingly boring, however:
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    “When you are about 1,000 feet deep, the walls of the Nautilus bear a pressure of 100 atmospheres. If, then, just now you were to empty the supplementary reservoirs, to lighten the vessel, and to go up to the surface, the pumps must overcome the pressure of 100 atmospheres, which is 1,500 lbs. per square inch.”
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    Sorry, but I have no patience for this sort of thing.
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  • I loved the awe-inspiring scenes of underwater travel. Coral reefs, an ice tunnel, an underwater volcano, majestic ocean animals, and schools of fish are all featured.
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  • That said, I should have known that spending time, even in my imagination, in a submarine under the sea would give me anxiety. Anything that hints remotely at possible loss of oxygen makes me nervous and cringey and moments in this book were no exception. I had to remind myself to breathe at times.
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  • The ending was not. satisfying. at. all.

I’ll leave it there as I’ve run on much longer than I intended, per usual. Overall, worth the read. But I’m still mad about the ending.


Back to the Classics 2020This is my selection for category 9. Classic with Nature in the Title for the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen of Books and Chocolate.

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What Ben Read

2019 Reading Review: Better late than never edition

So I started one of these last year and never got through it. Got hung up on some of the stats not adding up, went back trying to find where things were off, got too deep in the weeds until it seemed too late. Now here we are in February 2020 and I’m in danger of the same fate, so this will be a quick and dirty recap.

The big news: I am the 2019 winner! Aw yeah! Shannon is a formidable opponent though. I had a big lead for a while, but she closed out the year with power and would have caught me if I hadn’t kept my game strong all the way to the end.

You wouldn’t think that the guy reading 57 books a year would be the tortoise in a reading race, but I definitely am. I don’t tend to have as big of slumps, but when she gets going…look out. Meanwhile I just try to knock out a book every week. Sometimes two if I’m lucky.

One thing that really helped me was that I got in the habit of going to a coffee shop on Sunday morning and putting in some solid reading time with minimal distractions.

Speaking of which, I’m already way behind. 2020 is not looking like my year. But I will persevere. Even if it means just trying to match or exceed last year’s tally.

A few assorted notes:

Male/female author split: 45 male, 12 female.
Fiction vs non-fiction: 30 fiction, 27 non-fiction
Number of genres covered: 15 (as classified by Shannon)
Number of books classified as Politics: zero, despite being a political science major. (I did read 6 that counted as Social Issues, which can overlap.)
Re-reads: 0
Most books in one genre: 8. This was a tie between “Mystery/Thriller” and “Science Fiction/Speculative fiction/dystopian future.” Perennial favorites that got a solid boosts this year thanks to Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins mysteries and Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries.

My musical reading gives away my fondness for a bit of volume:

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Eye openers (Books that changed my perspective or made me consider new ideas):

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